How I Got Here

A Podcast by The Garage

How I Got Here traces the journeys of young professionals with interesting jobs at exciting companies like Apple, Instagram, Goldman Sachs, or their own startups. We’ll follow their paths from college to career, including the lessons they learned along the way, advice they have for others looking to follow in their footsteps, and how entrepreneurship helped them land their dream job.

About the Podcast

The Journey

From college to career, what did the journey look like and how did The Garage shape that?

Lessons & Advice

Entrepreneurship is filled withs ups and downs. We’ll hear about the challenges and wins of some of our recent alumni. Learn from their experiences and hear valuable advice to help shape your own future.

Living the Dream

Whether pursuing their startup full-time, working at a startup, or landing their dream job at Apple and Instagram, we’ll hear what life is like after college.

Featured Guests

Connor Owens, SESP ’16 Medill ’20
Global Product Policy and Operations at YouTube

When Connor Owens started college as an economics major, he thought he wanted to be a consultant – even though he had no idea what that entailed. After some soul searching and a change of majors, he decided to optimize his college experience for real-world experiences, and pursued an astounding 11 internships during his time as a student.

This breadth of diverse experiences as well as his involvement with student startups and The Garage empowered Connor with the knowledge, skills, and relationships to land him in Google’s rotational program after graduation. Connor’s story emphasizes that you don’t have to choose one path – you can seek out a variety of opportunities to find what you’re really passionate about and interested in pursuing after school.

Rachel Xanttopoulos, Weinberg ’11 + Kellogg ’17
Product Marketing Lead, Monetization at Instagram

Shortly after beginning her career as a management consultant, Rachel Xanttopoulos realized that the job wasn’t a great fit for her long-term. After mentioning to a colleague she’d love to work for the New York Times, she landed in the NYT strategy group and rose up the ranks for a few years before deciding to return to school to earn her MBA at Kellogg, with the intention of starting her own business.

After a business school class exercise in which she pitched the idea to her fellow students led to overwhelming enthusiasm and support, Rachel launched Daybreak, a daily newsletter that summarized interesting events and resources for students at Kellogg. Although Daybreak quickly grew in popularity and team size, the difficulties of building a business from a local newsletter led Rachel to take a job at Instagram after school, where she knew she would learn from a best-in-class company how to monetize a media business – knowledge she may put to use when she starts her next venture.

Lucas Philips, SESP '19
Chief Product Officer and Co-founder at Brewbike

Lucas Philips came to Northwestern knowing that he wanted entrepreneurship to be a part of his college career. After spending a few months on campus searching for easily accessible high-quality coffee, he decided to found BrewBike as a freshman, bringing delicious coffee straight to students on campus. Although it was time-consuming and tough work, Lucas knew that the farther he was able to take his company as a student, the more opportunities he’d have after graduation.

Aided by mentors and programs at The Garage at Northwestern, BrewBike grew large enough that Lucas was able to raise venture capital funding and continue with the company full-time after school, growing the team and expanding to new campuses. Lucas shares his insights from his rare journey from a student-founder to full-time entrepreneur, and how his motivation has changed over time.

Ali Quereshi, Weinberg '19
Equities Trader at Goldman Sachs

Before moving to the United States from Pakistan for college, Ali Qureshi watched the TV show Silicon Valley and immediately knew he wanted to be involved with startup culture in the states. During his time as a student, he co-founded Party in a Box, an on-demand party supply company. While the company didn’t ultimately succeed, Party in a Box was the most discussed bullet on his resume during internship and job interviews, ultimately landing him a role at Goldman Sachs. Ali’s experience highlights how an entrepreneurial venture can be a differentiating factor when applying for competitive opportunities.

Zach Scott, McCormick '15
Product Design Engineer at Apple

Since he was in college, Zach Scott always dreamed of working for Apple – but it took a winding path over many years to finally end up there. As a mechanical engineer, Zach interned for SpaceX as a student, before joining a small startup after school, where he experienced the rapid, “wear-many-hats” environment of an early stage company. He used that experience to springboard into a role at Formlabs designing 3D printers, which ultimately led to his current job designing iPhones at Apple, after having been rejected from the company twice previously. Zach’s healthy attitude towards putting himself out there and quickly moving on from rejection has been a strength for his ability to learn, grow, and find new opportunities.

Sarah Ahmad, McCormick '18
Co-founder at Stable

Entrepreneurship has always been an interest of Sarah Ahmad’s, and when The Garage at Northwestern opened her sophomore year, she knew it was a space she wanted to be in. In her junior year, she launched HotPlate, an app designed to help people find the best-rated dishes at restaurants. But during the summer before her senior year, she had a difficult decision to make: take the prestigious internship she was offered that would pay well and look good on her resume, or spend the summer working on HotPlate? Looking back, Sarah’s glad she chose to work on her startup.

Since graduating and moving to the Bay Area, Sarah co-founded another company called Stable with her Northwestern classmate Collin Pham, which has since raised venture capital and participated in Y-Combinator. Sarah attributes much of her success to trusting her gut and pursuing what she is most interested in instead of focusing on exterior pressures.

Rachel Cantor, SoC '20
Recommendations Writer at Morning Brew

When Rachel was a high school student, she started an online publication with a friend covering the news for teens, by teens and recruited writers from 12 different countries to contribute. Entering college, Rachel thought she wanted to work in marketing at an agency after school, but after accumulating diverse experiences from internships at an agency and Refinery 29 to running her university’s largest student organization and spending a summer working on a startup, she decided she wanted to do something more entrepreneurial.

On a whim during her senior year, Rachel started a personal recommendations newsletter to share with her friends for fun, which quickly took off. As the newsletter grew, she started sharing it on Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn, which unexpectedly led to opportunities to become a freelance writer and ultimately landed her her job at Morning Brew writing Sidekick, a daily recommendation newsletter. Rachel discusses why entrepreneurship is an activity, not an identity, how her curiosity is an asset, and why you should share your work with the world.

Akshat Thirani, McCormick '16
Founder and CEO at Amper Technologies

Since he was in high school, Akshat was always looking for problems that he could solve and potentially commercialize. When something didn’t work, he moved on to the next problem he could find. During his junior year of college, Akshat moved into an apartment where he began paying an electric bill for the first time, and began wondering which appliances were consuming the most energy. So, he began teaching himself how to engineer and build a product that could provide this information – an idea that quickly caught the attention of investors, won competitions such as the MIT Clean Energy Challenge, and helped him land a spot in the Hax accelerator program in Shenzhen, China. Despite all of this validation, Akshat began discovering that the product was not feasible for a variety of reasons, and on a serendipitous trip home to India, decided to pivot the product to serve factories and manufacturers.

Since the pivot, Akshat has raised millions of dollars in venture capital, built out a robust customer base, and grown the team to 15 employees. Akshat discusses the lessons he learned along the way from avoiding solution-attachment, talking to customers early on, and raising venture capital.

Audrey Valbuena, Medill '19
News Designer at The Washington Post

Although Audrey applied to ten colleges, she only applied to one journalism program, which she ended up getting into and attending. Originally, Audrey thought she would be a feature journalist after school, but after a few “happy accidents,” exposure to design-thinking, and experiences outside of the classroom, she decided to follow her curiosity of how news is presented and distributed. Audrey discusses the benefits of forging your own path, the value of extracurricular activities, and why it’s important to surround yourself with interesting people.

Blair Pircon, Kellogg '16
Co-founder of The Graide Network

As a first year business school student, Blair had an idea to help teachers give more thorough feedback on student writing assignments by creating a service that utilized 3rd party graders. To test the feasibility and viability of this proposition, she started with an MVP consisting of Google Drive and Venmo, and found that The Graide Network created value for all stakeholders. Over the next five years, Blair grew the company and team to service more than 70,000 students nationwide, eventually leading to an acquisition of the company in 2021. Blair’s advice to entrepreneurs just starting out is to make sure that you’re picking the right market, team, and product to have the tailwinds at your back.

Aditya Nidmarti, Weinberg '20
Investor at Bessemer Venture Partners

Aditya was an international student from India who was looking for any internship that would allow him to stay in the U.S. after his freshman year. After landing an internship at a local startup, SpotHero, while the company was raising a financing round of venture capital, Aditya became intrigued by the industry, and started a venture capital club at his university. Founding the venture capital club allowed Aditya to reach out and build relationships with investors in the industry, which ultimately helped him land an investor role at Bessemer Venture Partners after graduation. Aditya discusses the difference between private equity and venture capital, why he believes in cold emailing people, and advice for pitching investors.

David Olodort, McCormick '16
Data Analytics Manager at Flexport

Early in his college career, David got involved with a student-run business and quickly realized the benefits of having hands-on experience running a company. His work running a student storage company gained him an unsolicited offer to intern at a startup over the summer, which translated into a full time job after school. In this conversation, we discuss the importance of diverse experiences, how to approach your job search, and how to think creatively about opportunities.

Jared Scharen, Kellogg '17
VP of Growth at Foodsmart

Jared’s path has been a winding one, from cold-calling his way into a job at McKinsey after college, to leaving consulting to do non-profit work in a small village in Peru where no one spoke english, to founding e-retirements, a resource created to help future retirees identify their ideal retirement location customized for their individual needs, as a business school student. In this conversation we discuss self-awareness, imposter syndrome, why being a founder isn’t for everyone, and the importance of finding what motivates you. I hope you enjoy, this conversation with Jared Scharen.

About the Host

Mike Raab, Executive Director of The Garage

Mike Raab has had an unusual career. After majoring in film and television in college, he started at the bottom as an executive assistant in the TV industry in Los Angeles. Even after rising up the ranks, he felt that his learning had plateaued, and after applying to and being rejected from dozens of other jobs and MBA programs, he ultimately quit his job at the age of 26 to backpack through Europe, where he gained perspective on what he wanted to do in his career – ultimately, be more involved in building things with people and flexing his creative muscles. After another short stint in the TV industry, he joined a venture capital firm in San Francisco, investing in early-stage consumer technology companies. It was during this experience that Raab recognized his enjoyment of talking to other people about their career journeys, and realized that the most interesting people had the most illogical career paths.

In his current role as the executive director of The Garage, Mike uses this perspective to advise students about their future careers and let them know that everything will work out – but that how it works out is entirely unpredictable – and that’s an exciting thing! Raab also enjoys writing about technology, startups, investing, media, and life at, and has been published in Business Insider, OneZero, HackerNoon, and the book Finding Genius.  

How I Got Here is a passion project for Mike and Melissa Kaufman, the founding executive director of The Garage. Through their own experiences and conversations with students, they realized the importance and impact of dissecting non-linear career paths and hearing first-hand from the professionals who forged them.